Three Thoughts on Tiger Football

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• With the program's newfound success, the Tigers — and their fan base — will have to learn how to process something new: costly defeat. It's hard to imagine more riding on a single kicked football than the one lifted toward the goalpost by the U of M's Jake Elliott with 19 seconds left in last Saturday's game at Houston. If that ball splits the uprights, the Tigers avoid a dispiriting blown lead, remain in contention for the AAC's Western Division title, leap up the Top 25 rankings (perhaps switching spots with the Cougars, at the time ranked 16th), and cling to what little hope remained for the "Group of Five" slot in a New Year's Six bowl game. The football, of course, flew wide right, erasing all those positive scenarios and leaving Memphis with its first two-game losing streak since the end of the 2013 season. Making the miss especially cruel for Elliott, it would have made him the third Tiger to score 300 career points. He remains at 299 entering this week's game at Temple. We need only go back to last year's win at Temple or the Miami Beach Bowl to remember how clutch Elliott — twice named first-team all-AAC — has been with a win at stake. If the Houston loss lingers, watch the Tiger defense over the last quarter, and forget that failed field-goal attempt. Here's hoping another game rests on the right foot of Mr. Elliott.
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• Mose Frazier is in the final stretch of what has become a terrific career at Memphis. With four more catches, the pride of Whitehaven High School will become the first Tiger with 60 receptions in a season since 2011. His 121 career receptions rank seventh in U of M history and with six more, he'll climb to fifth. Frazier has 1,461 career receiving yards and, with three games to play (counting a bowl game), could climb as high as sixth in this category. Most impressive, Frazier has embraced a committee of talented wideouts utilized in the Tiger attack the last two seasons. Ten Tigers have at least 100 yards receiving through ten games. Wide receiver is the easiest position on a football field to become selfish. Frazier has served as an example not just for his talents downfield, but for his strengths as a teammate.

• In both 2013 and 2014, the Temple game served as a thumbprint for the Tiger season. Two years ago, the Owls came to Memphis in late November trying to find their way (like the Tigers) and delivered a 41-21 beatdown at the Liberty Bowl. Combined with another blowout loss a week later at UConn, the Tigers had to reconsider what was possible with the roster as Justin Fuente had built it. Then last fall, when Elliott drilled his game-winner as time expired in Philadelphia, the Tigers found themselves 6-3 and bowl-eligible for the first time in six years. They would not lose again on their way to a 10-3 campaign.

Now this Saturday (again in Philly), the Tigers and Owls find themselves sharing outstanding, though recently disappointing, seasons. Temple started 7-0 and entered the Top 25 for the first time in a generation before losing two of its last three games (to Notre Dame and USF). You know the Memphis story: An 8-0 start, ranked 15th in the land, then consecutive losses to Navy and Houston. By one significant measure, Temple has more to play for than does Memphis. If the Owls win their final two games (they finish with UConn), they'll represent the Eastern Division in the first AAC championship game. But the Tigers need to end a losing streak, and can play the role of spoiler Saturday afternoon. A Temple loss would drop the Owls into a tie with USF atop their division if the Bulls beat Cincinnati Friday night. Put it this way: the loser of Saturday's game will be reeling. We have the makings of a good cross-divisional rivalry here.


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